December 18, 2015

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Two of Penn State's best players are considering their NFL Draft potential and whether to return next season.

For now, Christian Hackenberg and Austin Johnson are preparing for Penn State's game against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2.

Both players have remained consistent on the topic throughout the season. They're still waiting to hear back from the NFL Draft Advisory Board and have met with coach James Franklin to map out a timeline to announce their intentions.

''We want to have a plan and be organized with whatever we decide,'' Franklin said. ''It's not going to be someone coming out and throwing something out midweek on a tweet. It's going to be something we do together and do it the way they want it to be done.''

Hackenberg said the board's analysis of him won't be the determining factor in his decision. Instead, he'll sit down with family and consider multiple factors after the bowl game.

''I think it's obviously going to be a tool in that decision when that time comes. But again, right now I think it's really just going down and making sure we execute against Georgia,'' Hackenberg said.

Hackenberg's completion percentage has fallen each year following former coach Bill O'Brien's departure after Hackenberg's freshman season. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a freshman. He completed 55.8 percent of his throws last season, his first under Franklin, and just 53.3 this season.

Johnson's stock has improved with more exposure in the middle of a defense that has been among the best in the country the last two seasons.

Johnson was the primary run-stuffer each of the last two seasons and finished with 119 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks in that span. Often lining up directly over opposing centers, Johnson demanded double teams that freed up fellow defensive tackle Anthony Zettel and ends Garrett Sickels and Carl Nassib. Penn State finished 14th in total defense, and Nassib led the country with 15.5 sacks.

Other than communication with his mother, who keeps up on her son's draft stock, Johnson said he isn't worried about the future.

''I really don't pay that much attention to it,'' Johnson said before the regular-season finale. ''She sends me stuff, I look at it, and just kind of keep on going on about my day. It's about this team. This is where I am right now.''

At least one of their coaches understands the draft-decision process.

Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis inquired about his own draft stock as a junior at Wake Forest and went on to play two seasons for the Chicago Bears after being drafted in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007. The board returned more potential outcomes compared to now, where its members identify only players with first- or second-round potential. All others are advised to stay in school.

''Each kid has to sit down and weigh their best interests, not only from football, their academic and their social life and family life structures at that point,'' Gattis said. ''It's a stressful time for a lot of kids because they want to make the best decision and you can imagine, 19-, 20-year-old kids getting pulled in a lot of different directions, not necessarily are they all for the benefit of the kid.''

Johnson has earned a degree from Penn State and is set to graduate this weekend. Hackenberg said he is on pace to graduate a semester early, which could happen as soon as this summer.

Hackenberg recently meet with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. He was intrigued by Moorhead's looming implementation of the spread offense.

''I've never really ran what was labeled a spread offense ever in my life, so I was kind of curious how it worked,'' Hackenberg said. ''It was pretty cool how he broke it down and the intricacies with it and how he teaches it to his guys.''

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